Buddhist Views on the Afterlife

Buddhist Views on the Afterlife

Although there are various Buddhist views on the afterlife, many believe that whenever a person dies, he or she is either reborn into another form or achieves nirvana. The process of being reborn into another body is called reincarnation, while nirvana is a phrase used by Buddhists in reference to liberation. Nirvana is a process whereby one is set free of all desires, and it is believed that only enlightened Buddhists will be able to achieve it in the afterlife.

The unifying factor of the varying views held by Buddhists on the afterlife is that one should be committed towards avoiding reincarnation in order to be liberated. Another striking view of the Buddhist beliefs on the afterlife is that there is no soul. This implies there is no permanent form or substance in the life after death. However, Buddhism provides certain predictions on the individual identity assumed in the afterlife.

The Key Elements of Buddhist Views on the Afterlife

Reincarnation or rebirth into another body and Nirvana are the main elements of the Buddhist views on the afterlife.


This view is based on the doctrine of no-soul, also known as anatta, which emphasizes on the inexistence of an eternal soul. Buddha described the process of rebirth in the next life differently to the traditional Indian beliefs. He likened the process to using one candle to light another in a successive order. Although each of the flames of the candles are all connected to the one used in lighting them, they are not the same flames. Buddhists believe that when one dies, reincarnation occurs instantly and a new body is formed.

However, the Thervada school of thought, which is one of the most prominent Buddhist views points out that the body is first changed into an ‘’intermediate state’’ after death before it is reincarnated. Although the tradition says that the state is in contemplation to either rebirth or nirvana, the body has no control of the situations. Only karma decides the state to be realized.


This is process of liberation from the cycle of death and reincarnation. It marks the extinction of all suffering and cravings. Buddhists generally view life in a body that brings all sorts of suffering, and the aim is to evade all that. Nirvana refers to the abandoning of a false sense of self so there is nothing left to be reincarnated, thus no pain to be experienced.

This Buddhist view seems appealing even in the present day, whereby life is portrayed by many to be unattractive. However, Tibetan Buddhism believes that the departed soul undergoes a process lasting 49 days, which is categorized into three parts called bardos. During this time, the soul has a chance of avoiding rebirth. After this process, the soul is either taken into Nirvana or back to earth for reincarnation.

When the soul enters Nirvana, one no longer desires external things or imaginations. Although it is not clear how the state is specifically, Buddha’s views portrays it as ‘’incomprehensible, unutterable and inconceivable.’’

Other Buddhist Views on the Afterlife

Generally, Buddhist views on the afterlife dictate that if one fails to achieve nirvana, he or she cannot escape the process of being reborn into another body. There are six possible states that one can be reincarnated in the afterlife, including;

Heaven: There are 37 different levels of heaven where beings find long lasting peace and happiness.

Human life: Buddhism dictates that we can be reincarnated into human life severally. In this state, anything can happen and we experience similar situations to those in the present life and environment. Only Karma determines our situations based on our past.

Asura: This is a spiritual state jealous and unhappy Demi-Gods, since they can clearly see how merry the gods in heaven live.

Hungry Ghost: This is a state of unending desires and search experienced by those who committed so much evils and remained obsessed of their previous lives.

Animals: This is a state into which the souls of those who killed animals or committed other evils are reborn.

Hell: This realm is a place where humans undergo a constant pain and horrific torture. This place is reserved for those with bad Karma and they can remain there for a long time.

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